Skip to main content

Active Reading

In order to reach a deeper, fuller understanding of your reading, it is important to read actively. This means interacting with the text and moving beyond just the words on the page.  By thinking about context, making connections, effectively highlighting key information, and creating visuals of the information, you can get the most out of your reading.


Think about the historical, geographical, and cultural context in which the article or book was written. Authors don't write in a bubble; they are likely responding to other authors, theories, or events. To better understand this context, ask yourself

  • Did political or social events of that time influence the text? 
  • Did the author use a particular theoretical framework?
  • Does the author refer to other authors or articles? Why?

Further research may be necessary to better understand the context. Knowing the context will help you understand the author's perspective and reason for writing.


It is important to make the text meaningful to you and your learning. To do so, make the following connections:

  • text to text – How do the ideas from the text connect to topics you have learned from other books, articles, lectures, etc.? Are there any similarities or differences?
  • text to self – What is your reaction to the ideas presented? What information is meaningful to you? What ideas are problematic to you? Why? What connections can you make between the text and your own experience?
  • text to world – What connections can you make to other events or ideas? Consider how the ideas may connect to something you have heard on the news, for example.

These kinds of connections can help you build a deeper understanding of the article and its significance to you and your field.


To remember the most important parts of the article or book you read, it is useful to highlight. Use these tips:

  • Too much highlighting is just as bad as no highlighting at all because it can be overwhelming when you revisit the article. Focus on the passages that are most significant to you or your assignment.
  • Using a highlighter isn't usually enough. Always keep a highlighter and a pen/pencil on hand. Make marginal notes to jot down the thoughts, ideas, or connections you have made. Otherwise, it can be easy to forget why you highlighted the passage in the first place!
  • Consider using different colours. This can help you organize your highlights by different topics, which can be particularly helpful if you need to organize the information into a research essay.


There is a lot of information to sort through when reading, so try presenting the information using a visual format. There are various ways to represent information visually:

  • Create a mindmap. Put the main topic or argument in the middle and write the main points around it. Draw arrows between ideas that are related. This is a quick way to show how the author's points are related to the main topic or argument.
  • Create a table. This can be helpful to sort topics and sub-points or to compare multiple points.
  • Draw a visual representation of the idea. This can be helpful to think about the topic in a new way. Examples might be a path, cycle, pyramid, tree with branches, etc.

By reading actively, you will strengthen your reading skills and build a deeper understanding of the content you read.

Other Resources